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Architecture

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Architecture depends—on what? On people, time, politics, ethics, mess: the real world. Architecture, Jeremy Till argues with conviction in this engaging, sometimes pugnacious book, cannot help itself; it is dependent for its very existence on things outside itself. Despite the claims of autonomy, purity, and control that architects like to make about their practice, architecture is buffeted by uncertainty and contingency. Circumstances invariably intervene to upset the architect’s best-laid plans—at every stage in the process, from design through construction to occupancy. Architects, however, tend to deny this, fearing contingency and preferring to pursue perfection. With Architecture Depends, architect and critic Jeremy Till offers a proposal for rescuing architects from themselves: a way to bridge the gap between what architecture actually is and what architects want it to be. Mixing anecdote, design, social theory, and personal experience, Till’s writing is always accessible, moving freely between high and low registers, much like his suggestions for architecture itself.

The Case for Improvisation

When this book first appeared in 1972, it was part of the spirit that would define a new architecture and design era--a new way of thinking ready to move beyond the purist doctrines and formal models of modernism. Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver’s book was a manifesto for a generation that took pleasure in doing things ad hoc, using materials at hand to solve real-world problems. The implications were subversive. Turned-off citizens of the 1970s immediately adopted the book as a DIY guide. The word “adhocism” entered the vocabulary, the concept of adhocism became part of the designer’s toolkit, and Adhocism became a cult classic. Now Adhocism is available again, with new texts by Jencks and Silver reflecting on the past forty years of adhocism and new illustrations demonstrating adhocism’s continuing relevance.

Adhocism has always been around. (Think Robinson Crusoe, making a raft and then a shelter from the wreck of his ship.) As a design principle, adhocism starts with everyday improvisations: a bottle as a candleholder, a dictionary as a doorstop, a tractor seat on wheels as a dining room chair. But it is also an undeveloped force within the way we approach almost every activity, from play to architecture to city planning to political revolution.

Engagingly written, filled with pictures and examples from areas as diverse as auto mechanics and biology, Adhocism urges us to pay less attention to the rulebook and more to the real principle of how we actually do things. It declares that problems are not necessarily solved in a genius’s “eureka!” moment but by trial and error, adjustment and readjustment.

Artists as Cartographers

Contemporary artists beginning with Guy Debord and Richard Long have returned again and again to the walking motif. Debord and his friends tracked the urban flows of Paris; Long trampled a path in the grass and snapped a picture of the result (A Line Made by Walking). Mapping is a way for us to locate ourselves in the world physically, culturally, or psychologically; Debord produced maps like collages that traced the “psychogeography” of Paris. Today, the convergence of global networks, online databases, and new tools for location-based mapping coincides with a resurgence of interest in walking as an art form. In Walking and Mapping, Karen O’Rourke explores a series of walking/mapping projects by contemporary artists. Some chart “emotional GPS”; some use GPS for creating “datascapes” while others use their legs to do “speculative mapping.” Many work with scientists, designers, and engineers.

O’Rourke offers close readings of these works—many of which she was able to experience firsthand—and situates them in relation to landmark works from the past half-century. She shows that the infinitesimal details of each of these projects take on more significance in conjunction with others. Together, they form a new entity, a dynamic whole greater than the sum of its parts. By alternating close study of selected projects with a broader view of their place in a bigger picture, Walking and Mapping itself maps a complex phenomena.

The Science of Social Space

In mid-twentieth century France, the term “social space” (l’espace social)—the idea that spatial form and social life are inextricably linked—emerged in a variety of social science disciplines. Taken up by the French New Left, it also came to inform the practice of urban planning. In The View from Above, Jeanne Haffner traces the evolution of the science of social space from the interwar period to the 1970s, illuminating in particular the role of aerial photography in this new way of conceptualizing socio-spatial relations.

As early as the 1930s, the view from above served for Marcel Griaule and other anthropologists as a means of connecting the social and the spatial. Just a few decades later, the Marxist urban sociologist Henri Lefebvre called the perspective enabled by aerial photography—a technique closely associated with the French colonial state and military—“the space of state control.” Lefebvre and others nevertheless used the notion of social space to recast the problem of massive modernist housing projects (grands ensembles) to encompass the modern suburb (banlieue) itself—a critique that has contemporary resonance in light of the banlieue riots of 2005 and 2007. Haffner shows how such “views” permitted new ways of conceptualizing the old problem of housing to emerge. She also points to broader issues, including the influence of the colonies on the metropole, the application of sociological expertise to the study of the built environment, and the development of a spatially oriented critique of capitalism.

Attention in the Age of Embodied Information

The world is filling with ever more kinds of media, in ever more contexts and formats. Glowing rectangles have become part of the scene; screens, large and small, appear everywhere. Physical locations are increasingly tagged and digitally augmented. Sensors, processors, and memory are not found only in chic smart phones but also built into everyday objects. Amid this flood, your attention practices matter more than ever. You might not be able to tune this world out. So it is worth remembering that underneath all these augmentations and data flows, fixed forms persist, and that to notice them can improve other sensibilities. In Ambient Commons, Malcolm McCullough explores the workings of attention though a rediscovery of surroundings.

Not all that informs has been written and sent; not all attention involves deliberate thought. The intrinsic structure of space—the layout of a studio, for example, or a plaza—becomes part of any mental engagement with it. McCullough describes what he calls the Ambient: an increasing tendency to perceive information superabundance whole, where individual signals matter less and at least some mediation assumes inhabitable form. He explores how the fixed forms of architecture and the city play a cognitive role in the flow of ambient information. As a persistently inhabited world, can the Ambient be understood as a shared cultural resource, to be socially curated, voluntarily limited, and self-governed as if a commons? Ambient Commons invites you to look past current obsessions with smart phones to rethink attention itself, to care for more situated, often inescapable forms of information.

Mapping, Technology, and Politics

The maps in this book are drawn with satellites, assembled with pixels radioed from outer space, and constructed from statistics; they record situations of intense conflict and express fundamental transformations in our ways of seeing and of experiencing space. These maps are built with Global Positioning Systems (GPS), remote sensing satellites, or Geographic Information Systems (GIS): digital spatial hardware and software designed for such military and governmental uses as reconnaissance, secrecy, monitoring, ballistics, the census, and national security. Rather than shying away from the politics and complexities of their intended uses, in Close Up at a Distance Laura Kurgan attempts to illuminate them. Poised at the intersection of art, architecture, activism, and geography, her analysis uncovers the implicit biases of the new views, the means of recording information they present, and the new spaces they have opened up.

Her presentation of these maps reclaims, repurposes, and discovers new and even inadvertent uses for them, including documentary, memorial, preservation, interpretation, political, or simply aesthetic. GPS has been available to both civilians and the military since 1991; the World Wide Web democratized the distribution of data in 1992; Google Earth has captured global bird’s-eye views since 2005. Technology has brought about a revolutionary shift in our ability to navigate, inhabit, and define the spatial realm. The traces of interactions, both physical and virtual, charted by the maps in Close Up at a Distance define this shift.

Today, spaces no longer represent a bourgeois haven; nor are they the sites of a classical harmony between work and leisure, private and public, the local and the global. The house is not merely a home but a position for negotiations with multiple spheres—the technological as well as the physical and the psychological. In A Topology of Everyday Constellations, Georges Teyssot considers the intrusion of the public sphere into private space, and the blurring of notions of interior, privacy, and intimacy in our societies. He proposes that we rethink design in terms of a new definition of the practices of everyday life.

Teyssot considers the door, the window, the mirror, and the screen as thresholds or interstitial spaces that divide the world in two: the outside and the inside. Thresholds, he suggests, work both as markers of boundaries and as bridges to the exterior. The stark choice between boundary and bridge creates a middle space, an in-between that holds the possibility of exchanges and encounters.

If the threshold no longer separates public from private, and if we can no longer think of the house as a bastion of privacy, Teyssot asks, does the body still inhabit the house—or does the house, evolving into a series of microdevices, inhabit the body?

“Where does the city without gates begin? Perhaps inside that fugitive anxiety, that shudder that seizes the minds of those who, just returning from a long vacation, contemplate the imminent encounter with mounds of unwanted mail or with a house that’s been broken into and emptied of its contents. It begins with the urge to flee and escape for a second from an oppressive technological environment, to regain one’s senses and one’s sense of self.”
--from Lost Dimension

Originally written in French in 1983, Lost Dimension remains a cornerstone book in the work of Paul Virilio: the one most closely tied to his background as an urban planner and architect, and the one that most clearly anticipates the technologically wired urban space we live in today: a city of permanent transit and internalized borders, where time has overtaken space, and where telecommunications has replaced both our living and our working environments. We are living in the realm of the lost dimension, where the three-dimensional public square of our urban past has collapsed into the two-dimensional interface of the various screens that function as gateways to home, office, and public spaces, be they the flat-screen televisions on our walls, the computer screens on our desktops, or the smartphones in our pockets.

In this multidisciplinary tapestry of contemporary physics, architecture, aesthetic theory, and sociology, Virilio describes the effects of today’s hyperreality on our understanding of space. Having long since passed the opposition of city and country, and city and suburb, the speed-ridden city and space of today are an opposition between the nomadic and the sedentary: a web of interactive, informational networks that turn our world into a prison-house of illusory transcendence.

The Urban Utopia in France, 1960–1970

Amid the cultural and political ferment of 1960s France, a group of avant-garde architects, artists, writers, theorists, and critics known as "spatial urbanists" envisioned a series of urban utopias, phantom cities of a possible future. The utopian "spatial" city most often took the form of a massive grid or mesh suspended above the ground, all of its parts (and inhabitants) circulating in a smooth, synchronous rhythm, its streets and buildings constituting a gigantic work of plastic art or interactive machine. In this new urban world, technology and automation were positive forces, providing for material needs as well as time and space for leisure.

In this first study of the French avant-garde tendency known as spatial urbanism, Larry Busbea analyzes projects by artists and architects (including the most famous spatial practitioner, Yona Friedman) and explores texts (many of which have never before been translated from the French) by Michel Ragon, the influential founder of the Groupe International d'Architecture Prospective (GIAP), Victor Vasarely, and others.

The projects of the spatial urbanists were in large part a response to the government’s planning policies, its Kafka-esque bureaucracy, and its outdated institutions, which they considered the first obstacles to the implementation of their radical urban designs. But even though the spatial city was conceived as progressive, by the end of the 1960s some critics had begun to question its ideological foundations.

Topologies maps the literal and metaphorical topologies of spatial urbanism, describing and documenting its projects and locating it within an international network of experimental architectural practice that also included the Situationist International, Archigram, the Metabolists, Architecture Principe, Superstudio, and others.

Even at its most fanciful, Busbea argues, the French urban utopia provided an image for social transformations that were only beginning to be described by cultural theorists and sociologists. The designs of spatial urbanism anticipated the ambivalence that would greet the arrival in France of capitalist modernity and globalization, marking both the apex and the end of the technological optimism of the postwar years.

Collected Essays on Architecture and the City

Born in Tokyo, educated in Japan and the United States, and principal of an internationally acclaimed architectural practice, celebrated architect Fumihiko Maki brings to his writings on architecture a perspective that is both global and uniquely Japanese. Influenced by post-Bauhaus internationalism, sympathetic to the radical urban architectural vision of Team X, and a participant in the avant-garde movement Metabolism, Maki has been at the forefront of his profession for decades. This collection of essays documents the evolution of architectural modernism and Maki’s own fifty-year intellectual journey during a critical period of architectural and urban history.

Maki’s treatment of his two overarching themes--the contemporary city and modernist architecture--demonstrates strong (and sometimes unexpected) linkages between urban theory and architectural practice. Images and commentary on three of Maki’s own works demonstrate the connection between his writing and his designs. Moving through the successive waves of modernism, postmodernism, neomodernism, and other isms, these essays reflect how several generations of architectural thought and expression have been resolved within one career.

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